Meditation on Hebrews 2:5-18: This passage from Hebrews was the New Testament reading set for morning prayer on the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March, and it seems appropriate not just for the feast day but also for our present context.
Our text is part of a contrast between angels and the Son which will, in turn, lead into a contrast between Moses and the Son. Why angels? Because later rabbinic tradition believed angels were mediators of the covenant on Mt Sinai. Hebrews, in other words, is drawing a distinction between the old and the new covenants: the new building on the old, the new outlined within the structures of the old.
In this context, our author relates Psalm 8 directly to Jesus whose incarnation, death and exaltation are part of its extended meaning. Of course we know Psalm 8 is about creation and the astonishing honour conferred on human beings made in the divine image. But Hebrews sees Christ as the climax of human existence and beatitude in creation, and the source of its transformation in the new age.
In this sense, the Son is the ‘pioneer’ of our salvation: that is, the one who not only goes before us but also creates the path itself and accompanies us on it. In the incarnation Christ shares our ‘flesh and blood’ in order to overcome the fear and, indeed, the reality of death. He enters into our suffering to identify with us in our fragile humanity but also to bring suffering, sin and death definitively to an end.
This is a message for us today, as we live with the coronavirus; as we confront our fear of death, our fears for those we love and our concerns for those who are poor and vulnerable. Jesus has entered into that fearful humanity of ours. He has embraced it. He is with us now in flesh and blood to share our pain and hold out the promise of release from slavery to fear by overcoming sin and death in his own person: in our place, for our sake, on our behalf. He stands before us today, arms outstretched, offering us divine help and guidance and strength and blessing. Today we acknowledge also the faith of his Mother who said yes to the incarnation, despite what it meant for her life.
Reverend Canon Professor Dorothy Lee is the Stewart Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity College, University of Divinity. Professor Lee is an Anglican Priest and scholar of the Bible with a wide publication list.